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Law of Return Amendment Adopted by 51-14 Vote; Passage Stirs Stormy Debate

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A Government-sponsored amendment to the Law of Return which defines a Jew according to halacha–religious law–was passed by a vote of 51-14 in the Knesset last night after a stormy debate. The chamber was thrown into an uproar at one point when an Orthodox rabbi MK spat on a Reform prayer book and threw it to the floor. The amendment mainly affects the national status of non-Jewish spouses of immigrants. It denies Jewish nationality to all but persons born of Jewish mothers or converted to Judaism. But it grants non-Jewish spouses, their children and grandchildren all rights and privileges of immigrants including automatic citizenship.

Those provisions were regarded as too liberal by the ultra-Orthodox Agudat Israel and Poalei Agudat Israel which voted against the amendment. The Orthodox also objected to the amendment’s failure to specify that only conversions by Orthodox rabbis would be recognized. This, in effect, permits the granting of Jewish nationality to persons converted abroad by Reform or Conservative rabbis which the Orthodox establishment in Israel refuses to recognize. It was on this point that Rabbi Menachem Porush of the Agudat Israel delivered a bitter harangue in which he assailed Reform Judaism as “anti-Zionist, anti-Jewish and anti-God.” He whipped out a Reform prayer book which he apparently had on his person, spat on a page and threw the book to the floor.

Immediately after, Minister of Justice Yaacov Shimshon Shapiro mounted the Knesset rostrum and denounced the act as scandalous. Mr. Shapiro declared, “This is a prayer book used by hundreds of thousands of Jews. I would not protest any differently were it a Christian, Moslem, Buddhist or any other prayer book.” The Justice Minister then moved that a committee of the house consider disciplinary action against Rabbi Porush. At that point the Orthodox MK apologized saying that he had lost his temper. He asked that his apology be regarded as closing the incident. The controversial amendment was backed by the Government and the majority Labor Alignment.

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